Many of us scratched our heads when media outlets reported that Texas had dramatically improved its high school graduation rates. None of the traditional indicators of student success were spiking upward, so why is Texas suddenly a national leader?
It turns out that, in our largest school districts, most students who applied for an alternate path after not passing exit-level tests were granted a diploma. They are allowed this exemption thanks to a new state law, and the numbers are huge, according to a study conducted by the Texas Association of Business.
The controversy was covered recently by Eleanor Dearman, in the Texas Tribune.
The law was enacted in the most recent Regular Session, after lawmakers heard from parents and school officials afflicted with "test fatigue." It's been an issue for a long time.
Here are some details from the Tribune piece:
The law — which overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and will expire in two years if lawmakers opt not to renew it — was intended to provide otherwise qualified high school students a way to graduate if their performance on state standardized exams are the only obstacle preventing it. [Sen.] Seliger proposed the legislation in response to concern from parents and educators over the validity of the state exams as a measure of students' academic achievement. To earn a diploma under the alternate route, a student must be cleared by a panel made up of teachers, counselors, and parents, who consider factors like grades, college entrance exam scores, and attendance.
It's perfectly understandable that policy makers wished to dial down our total reliance on standardized exams. But the move can't help but affect other statistics, including high school dropout rates.
Many kids who receive exemptions will show up inevitably at community colleges and require remediation, perhaps notwithstanding an earlier choice of a less rigorous curriculum in high school. If we aren't careful to factor in all the right variables, two-year college success rates could be affected negatively.
Sadly, college readiness nationwide hasn't been improving. According to an article by Matthew N. Gaertner and David T. Conley, in Community College Daily:
While more students are graduating, far too few are graduating college-ready. For example, research conducted by Thomas Bailey and the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University has found that 59 percent of students who successfully graduate high school and enter community colleges require remediation before they’re ready for credit-bearing coursework.
This figure that has been remarkably constant for the past two decades, demonstrating that increases in high school graduation rates are not necessarily good indicators of preparedness for college success.